Rowing Against the Wind… The Grand Canyon Series

Peggy captures Dave Stalheim and me as we begin our journey on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Note my clean and shaved look. It’s the last time you will see it.

 

With thoughts of facing headwind gusts up to 60 MPH, we began our journey down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park.

Peggy and I performed the ritual of asking a boatman if we could ride with him. It seems like a strange practice to me, designed to remind us who’s in charge. But we have entered the world where each boatman/woman is the captain of his or her ship, even if the ship is a 16-foot raft with two or three passengers.

“May I have permission to come aboard, sir?” Although it’s more like “Can we ride with you today?” It is courteous but I would prefer to be assigned and have the assignment changed each day.

The tradition is so old that it fades into history. Democracy is not an option on a raging sea or, for that matter, in the middle of a roaring rapid. When the captain yells jump, you jump.

Most boatmen are mellow people, however; good folks. There are few Captain Blighs. If they are slightly more than equal, it goes with the territory. We are committed to riding with each boatman. First up is David Stalheim. He makes his living as a city and county planner in Washington.

“I’ve been applying for a permit to go on the Colorado River for 15 years,” he tells us. Our ten-minute effort of obtaining a permit seems grossly unfair.

We push-off from shore, excited and nervous. The wind strikes immediately, like it was waiting in ambush. “Are we moving at all?” Dave asks plaintively.

An old rock road makes its way tortuously down from the canyon rim on river left. (Left and right are determined by direction of travel.) They are important for giving directions as in “There is a raft ripping rock on river right!” Since boatmen often row with their backs facing downriver, they appreciate such information.

Up until 1929, this is how travelers made their way to Lees Ferry. It would have been a bumpy ride.

The old road is how people once made their way to Lee’s Ferry, which was one of the few ways to cross the Colorado River between 1858 and 1929. The infamous Mormon, John Doyle Lee, established the Ferry. Brigham Young assigned him the job. Later, Lee was executed by firing squad for his role in the Mountain Meadow Massacre where Mormons and Paiute Indians murdered a wagon train of immigrants near St. George, Utah. For awhile, my brother and I thought some of our ancestors had been involved, had ended up dead. But it wasn’t so.

After fighting the wind for what seems like hours, we finally come to the Navajo Bridge, which replaced Lee’s Ferry in 1929. It towers some 467 feet above the river and reminds us that we are already miles behind our planned itinerary.

Navajo Bridge by Don Green

A view of the Navajo Bridge. The first is the old one and is now used as a walkway. The second is used by cars and other vehicles. (Photo by Don Green.)

Just beyond the bridge we catch our first glimpse of Coconino Sandstone. Its geologic history dates back some 250 million years when a huge desert covered the area and the world’s landmasses were all part of the large continent named Pangaea— before the divorce, before plate tectonics demanded that the continents go their own way.

During our journey down the river we will travel through over a billion years of the earth’s history.

The wind continues to beat against us as we make our way down the Colorado River. Only Dave’s strenuous effort at the oars keeps us from being blown up-stream. “Go that way,” I suggest and point down the river.

The group pulls in at a tiny beach in hopes our mini-hurricane will die down. It doesn’t. Dave develops blisters and I develop guilt. A manly man would offer to take over at the oars.

An option floats by. Dave’s niece, Megan Stalheim, is also one of our boatmen. Don Green, a retired Probate Judge out of Martinez, California, is sitting opposite her and pushing on the oars while she pulls. It inspires me. I join the push-pull brigade. Peggy also takes a turn.

The push-pull approach to rowing where Don Green was helping Megan. Peggy and I have been friends with Don for over two decades. He belongs to the same book club we do and joins us on our annual journey to Burning Man (as does Tom). Don is also quite generous in sharing his photos, which was particularly helpful on our first day since neither Peggy nor I took many.

Word passes back to us that Tom wants to scout Badger Creek Rapids. In boatman terminology this means figuring out the best way to get through without flipping. Badger isn’t a particularly big rapid for the Colorado, but it is our first. We are allowed to be nervous. It’s labeled a 4-6 out of 10 in the method used in the Grand Canyon for determining difficulty. Ten is reserved for only the most dangerous. Badger involves a 15 foot drop from the top to bottom.

Badger Creek Rapids by Don Green

Photo of Badger Creek Rapids by Don Green.

There is good news included in the message. We will stop for the night at Jackass Camp just below the rapids on the left. We’ve only gone 8 miles but are eager to escape the wind.

Dave is a cautious boatman. He takes his time to study Badger Creek Rapids from shore and then stands up in his raft for a second opinion as the river sucks us in. Time runs out. Icy waves splash over the boat and soak us. Our hands grasp the safety lines with a death grip as we are tossed about like leaves in the wind. Mere seconds become an eternity. And then it is over.

Badger Creek Rapids Google photo

The view from above using a Google photo. Our camp would be on the right (river left)  at the bottom of the photo, in the shade here. Our raft came out on the left (river right) side of the river.

“Quick, Curt, I need your help,” Dave shouts. We have come out of the rapids on the opposite side of the river from the camp. The powerful current is pushing us down stream. If we don’t get across we will be camping by ourselves. Adrenaline pumping, I jump up and push the oars with all my strength while Dave pulls. Ever so slowly the boat makes its way to camp.

Jackass campsite on Colorado River by Don Green

Not the world’s most attractive campsite. We scatter out to find places for our tents after emptying the boats. (Photo by Don Green.)

Jackass Camp Area by Don Green

Boats tethered at Jackass Camp. (Photo by Don Green.)

View from Jackass camp on Colorado River by Don Green

View from camp. (Photo by Don Green.)

Grand Canyon evening primrose by Don Green

I liked this primrose captured by Don the next morning…

Grand Canyon floers and tracks by Don Green

And found the tracks under it even more interesting. It’s like the lizard was sidestepping. Its tracks and tail trail can be seen coming down from the right. The hole on the right was made by an ant lion that uses the hole as a trap for insects. They fall in, can’t get out, and become lunch. Next Monday, we will continue our journey down the river.

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: I begin my series on the Alaska Highway. We make our way to the start of the highway in Dawson Creek by traveling through British Columbia. Great wood carvings and dog agility trials entertain us along the way.

FRIDAY’S MisAdventures POST: I graduate from playing in the Graveyard to playing on a pond and discover a magical world.

MONDAY’S Grand Canyon Series POST: Beautiful waterfalls, a huge cavern, and ancient Native American ruins are featured.

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Learning About Cross-Cultural Relations as a Second Grader… The MisAdventure Series

Caldor train

Caldor Lumber Company was one of two major places of employment in Diamond Springs. My dad worked as an electrician for the company. Logs were brought into Caldor by train on a narrow gauge railway up until the early 50s. Note the size of the logs! (Photo from newspaper archives.)

 

I was fortunate early in life to have close Mexican-American friends and experience some of the richness of cross-cultural experiences. The strength of America has always been in the diversity of the people who have come here from all over the world with dreams of improving their lives. That they retain a bit of their ‘home-country’ is a strength, whether that home country is Ireland, or Mexico, or China, or Nigeria. The mixing of cultures has almost always been the dynamism that drives humanity’s great leaps leap forward, that leads us to question old ways, and helps us find new solutions to seemingly intractable problems. 

 

My entry into the world of education also introduced me to a whole new set of friends. Up until that point in time, the kids I had hung out with had consisted of my brother and his buddies. We had roamed the country doing little boy things with me as a tag along. Mainly we got into mischief. I could look forward to a life of crime, or at least to becoming a world-class juvenile delinquent. I’m not sure that much changed during my first grade, but I started to make new friends. In the second grade, I became particularly close to Rudy (Raul) and Robert Rangel, a pair of Mexican-American brothers who lived in a small house in East Diamond Springs.

Raul Rangel

Rudy.

Robert Rangel

Robert.

We hit it off immediately and on a Saturday toward the end of the school year, the boys and their parents had invited me up to their house to spend the night. It was my first official play date and my first ever sleep-over. I was nervous. My mother took me up and dropped me off to a royal greeting by the boys, their parents and their siblings.

“Quick, “the boys had urged,” We have to go stand by the railroad tracks.” We could hear the train’s whistle a mile or so out of town.

The tracks were part of a narrow-gauge railway used by Caldor Lumber Company to bring logs from its forest operation 30 miles up in the mountains to its lumber mill in Diamond Springs. The company had been established in the early 1900s and at first used mules for hauling the logs. It had then switched to oxen followed by a giant steam tractor. The tractor made so much noise that the company was required to use outriders a quarter of a mile in front and behind to warn people so their horses wouldn’t be spooked.

Understandably, the company soon switched to a narrow-gauge railway. The trains had recently been converted to diesel engines, a task my father had helped with as one of Caldor’s two electricians. Soon the railroad would lose out to logging trucks but, for the time being, little kids still had the joy of watching these massive engines and their long line of rail cars carrying large logs out of the forest. More to the point, the engineers on the train carried an ample supply of candies that they would distribute to the boys and girls standing along the track.

The train was near; we could now hear it chugging along. Rudy and Robert, their siblings and I sprinted the hundred or so yards over the tracks. I leaned over and put my ear to the track, a trick I had learned from the Lone Ranger and his side-kick, Tonto. You can actually hear the vibrations and supposedly judge how far away the train is. It was an important skill for early train robbers. I needn’t have bothered since the train came into view when my head was on the track. I’m sure the engineers saw me. I jumped back at the urging of my buddies and we started waving madly. One of the engineers dutifully leaned out of the cab and tossed us candy, lots of it. We scrambled around picking it up.

Since dinner was an hour or so off, I suggested that we head out to the woods behind Rudy and Robert’s house and ride trees. Who needed horses? My brother, Alan, Lee and I had learned that we could climb up to the top of young, skinny pines and make them sway back and forth by leaning way out. It offered a free carnival-like ride 10-15 feet up in the air. If the tree was skinny enough, we could actually make it bend all of the way down to the ground, where we would drop off and allow it to snap back up. I suspect the trees didn’t enjoy the experience nearly as much as we did.

“It’s dinner time!” came the call so we rushed back to the house and made use of an outside water faucet to semi-wash the pitch off our hands. It can be quite stubborn.

“You have to try this,” Rudy enthused, dashing into the house and coming out with a red pepper. I should have been suspicious when the rest of the family followed him outside. But what does a second grader know? I gamely bit into the pepper and was introduced to habanero-hot. The whole family roared as I made a mad sprint for the faucet and glued my mouth to it, becoming a major part of the evening’s entertainment. The Mexican food that followed more than made up for the joke, however. I’ve been a fan ever since. The hot pepper became a dim memory when it became time to go to bed.

All of the boys slept on the same one. The family didn’t have a lot of money and space was limited. Admittedly it was much bigger than my small single at home. And, as you may recall, I had a number of animal companions that slept with me outside to scare the ghosts away. But I had never slept in a bed with another person, much less 3 or 4, or maybe it was 10. That’s what it felt like. I was mortified, but I tried. I really did. Ten came and there I was, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling, body frozen in place— and midnight, and two, and four. At 5:30, I gently nudged Robert.

“I can’t sleep. I haven’t slept all night,” I confessed. “I have to go home.”

“Ummm,” the half-awake Robert had moaned. I got up, dressed, and slipped out of the house, careful not to wake anyone else. It was close to dark, with only a dim light announcing the morning. Home wasn’t that far away, maybe a mile, but I still remember the journey as long and spooky. Halfway there, I passed Murphy’s grocery store. Sodas were stacked in wood boxes in front. I looked around furtively— nobody was around. I was totally alone. So, I helped myself to a Coke. I carefully hid it outside when I arrived home. It wouldn’t do to have overly inquisitive parents discover it and ask questions. I happily enjoyed it later in the day, feeling much less guilty about stealing  the soda than I did about abandoning my friends.

Curt

My second grade photo.

 

MONDAY’S POST: The Grand Canyon trip begins. I help paddle the raft to keep it floating downriver.  The headwinds were insisting that we go in the opposite direction.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Part 1 of a new photo essay on driving the Alaska Highway.

FRIDAY’S POST: My cocker spaniel, Tickle, teaches me how to swim and other tales of the magical Pond.

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Good Monkey; Bad Monkey… A Visit to an Eco-Tourist Lodge in the Amazon

Spider Monkey hug

This spider monkey adopted Peggy. Here it gives Peggy a monkey hug. Later, Peggy wondered where all of her flea bites came from…

Spider monkey hitches a ride

Monkey hug from the back.

 

“The war of the future will be between those who defend nature and those who destroy it. The Amazon will be in the eye of the hurricane. Scientists, politicians, and artists will land here to see what is being done to the forest.” —Jacques Cousteau

 

Cousteau’s statement to Dr. Francisco Bernardino inspired him to erect the Ariau Amazon Tower Lodge in the mid 80s to accommodate the expected influx of ‘artists, scientists and politicians,’  which it did up until it was closed in 2015, attracting such luminaries as Bill Gates, Prince Charles and Jimmy Carter, not to mention the Mekemsons.

Since it was located a mere 30 miles outside of Manaus on the Rio Negro River, Peggy and I decided to visit. We ended up staying in the same room that Jimmy Carter had occupied. Today’s photo essay reflects our stay there and how we hung out with the monkeys…

Amazon jungle lodges

The Ariau is located at number 3 on the map. We took a boat out of Manaus to get there.

Map of Ariau Amazon Tower

This is a map of the complex with its long walkways that wander throughout the rainforest.

Jungle walkway in Brazil

A view of the walkways. Peggy and I had a lot of fun hiking on them, whether we were accompanied by our monkey friends or not.

Peggy Mekemson on jungle walkway

Peggy on one of the walkways in the tree canopy.

Jungle walkway at Ariau Lodge in Brazil

Another view.

View from Ariau Lodge walkway

Looking out at one of the sights along the walkway.

Boat on Rio Negro River

We arrived from Manaus on this double-decker boat.

Ariau Lodge pickup stick look

You didn’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about the structure. I doubt that it would meet earthquake standards. Pickup sticks come to mind.

Our room at the Ariau Lodge

We stayed in the Jimmy Carter room. The eel reminded me of current politics. You don’t want to be a small fish.

Treehouse room at Ariau Lodge

Not to disparage Carter, who I really like, but I would have preferred to stay in the Tarzan suite shown here. It was nestled up in the top of a tall ebony tree.

Snake tongue and Bone

Bone put in an appearance.

Wooley Amazon monkey

Wooly and Spider Monkeys were found around the lodge and out on the walkways. This Wooly Monkey was behaving how monkeys are supposed to behave, dangling by his tail from a tree.

Wooly monkey hat

And this one wasn’t. It isn’t my best photo. (grin) I was not happy about having a monkey for a hat!

Monkey rear view

When I suggested that he go play with an anaconda out in the jungle, he wrapped his tail around my arm and treated me to this view.

Scary monkey

And then gave me the evil monkey look…

a handful of monkey

Before threatening to take a chunk out of my hand.

Spider monkey near Manaus

Peggy got the good monkey. Given its heart-shaped face and adoring look, this seems an appropriate time to wish everyone a Happy Valentines Day!

Spider Monkey mouth

I will note that the spider monkey had an impressive set of choppers.

Peggy with spider monkey

When Peggy sat down, it settled into her lap and hammed it up for the camera..

Spider monkey in lap

Before deciding to take a nap.

Spider monkey on Peggy's lap

Monkey feet

I decided its feet and our “Travelers’ Tales of Brazil” would make a fitting photo to close my posts on the Amazon.

 

FRIDAY’S POST: I learn about cross-cultural relations as a second-grader— on a queen sized bed.

MONDAY’S POST: We finally start to make our way down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon while fighting a strong headwind.

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: Peggy and I begin a trip up the Alaska-Canada Highway, one of the world’s premier adventure-travel roads.

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I Discover I Am No Longer 30, or 40, or 50, or even 60… Rafting Through the Grand Canyon: Part 4

On a private trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon National Park, everyone pitches into help. Here we are learning to rig the rafts. Straps and more straps! The  aluminum frame provided stability for the raft and held the heavy food containers. (Photo by Don Green)

 

It was time to make the leap from life on the road to life on the river. Laptops, cell phones, good clothes and the other accoutrements of modern civilization were stuffed into bags and dumped into our transport van.

Plus I had to paint my toenails. It was a virgin experience. Grand Canyon boatmen are a superstitious bunch. Many believe their boats will flip if a person is on board with naked toes. And it’s true— boats have flipped under such circumstances. It makes no difference if the opposite is also true. Tom lectured me. “I will not let you on my boat unless your toenails are painted.” In addition to being obnoxious, he was serious. Peggy dutifully applied blue polish on four of my toes. Did this mean we would only half flip?

Two acres of paved boat ramp greeted us when we arrived at Lee’s Ferry, some 130 miles from Flagstaff. It is the take off point for trips down the Canyon and the only bridge across the river in some 700 miles. The Mormons originally discovered the potential for the crossing and sent John Lee to set up a ferry, which began operation in 1873. Brigham Young was also hiding Lee. He had been a key player in the Mountain Meadows Massacre where some 120 eastern emigrants had been murdered. A practicing polygamist, Lee and his wives ran the ferry up until his execution in 1877.

The transport van disgorged us as the gear truck made a quick turn around and backed down the ramp. Another private party was busy rigging boats. People, gear and boats were scattered everywhere.

From off to the right, a longhaired, 50-something man had emerged. I had thought 60’s hippie or possibly the model for a Harlequin Romance cover. The pirate flag on his boat suggested otherwise. A ‘roll your own’ cigarette dangled from his lips. It was Steve Van Dore, the last member of our group and a boatman out of Colorado.  No one in our group had met him, but he came highly recommended.

Steve, a week or two into the trip.

“Please let this be the truck driver,” Steve later admitted was his first thought when he met our green and purple haired trip leader. He also confided that Tom hadn’t told him we were a smoke-free group. “On the other hand,” Steve confessed, “I didn’t tell him I was on probation.” Somehow this balanced out in Steve’s mind. There was no time to become acquainted; we had work to do.

There is an unwritten 11th Commandment on private river trips: Thou Shall Do Your Share. No one is paid to pamper you. Not helping will lead to bad things, like banishment from the tribe. The truck we had loaded in Flagstaff demanded unloading. Everybody did everything. There were no assignments. Peggy and I became stevedores. Piles of beer and soda and wine and food and personal gear and ammo cans and hefty ice chests quickly accumulated around the truck. There was no shade and the desert sun beat down ferociously. It was sucked up by the black asphalt and thrown back at us. We slathered on sun block and gulped down water.

The rafts were unloaded last. Rigging them was technical but relatively easy, assuming of course that you knew what you were doing and were mechanically inclined. I made no such claims. Steve’s Cat (catamaran) was already set up and in the water, its pirate flag was flapping in the breeze. Our other four boats were self-bailing Sotar Rafts with aluminum frames. Tom owned his own, a blue 14 footer named Peanut after the Jeff Dunham character. The three we had rented were yellow, 16 feet long and nameless.

Work also required that we get our feet wet. (Photo by Don Green)

Tom was the last to rig his boat. It was approaching dusk when he finished— the end of a very long day. I hiked down the river to find a campsite for our group while the rest boated down. Peggy and I struggled to set up our new tent in 30 MPH winds. A van was coming to pick us up for dinner at a nearby restaurant and we were late.

The walls of the restaurant were covered with photos of rafts and rafters being trashed by massive rapids. I walked around and admired them with more than a little awe and trepidation. I would have preferred to see photos that emphasized the beauty of the Canyon, but this was a rafters’ hangout.

The wind storm had changed to a dust storm when we arrived back at camp. Finding our tent in the dark proved to be a challenge, and the tent provided little protection when we crawled in. I was reminded of Burning Man as the dust assailed my eyes, ears, nose and mouth. I pulled out a handkerchief to cover my face. Exhausted, I finally fell asleep with the wind ripping at our tent.

I had underestimated the amount of work involved. We were floating down a river, weren’t we? I was out of shape and had a generous belly. Peggy and I had been traveling extensively, mainly helping our kids with their babies. I’d been over-eating and under-exercising. I might have gotten away with it at 30, or 40, or 50— and had. But now I was 67, and my body had some serious words for me. Mainly unprintable. A few years earlier I had undertaken a much more difficult task, backpacking for 360 miles between Lake Tahoe and Mt. Whitney. But I knew how tough that was and had spent a few months hiking 5-10 miles per day before hitting the trail. Now my only excuse was ignorance. And that is not a very good excuse.

We were awakened at five a.m. the next morning, as we would be on every day of our trip. There was personal gear to pack, breakfast to prepare, and boats to load. Any thoughts of a leisurely trip down the river were dashed in the cold reality of the early morning’s light.

We also had a lecture on the Grand Canyon’s numerous rules by Ranger Peggy. Somewhere in the middle of rigging boats the previous day she had stopped by to check our equipment. Life vests had been dutifully piled up; stoves and bar-b-que were unpacked. Even the groovers, which I will describe later, stood at attention. You don’t mess with Ranger Peggy.

She knew Tom from other river trips and was amused by his hair-do. He introduced me as the permit holder. “Tom’s in charge,” I noted. The smile dropped from her face. “You are responsible,” she said icily. “I’ll try to keep Tom under control,” I replied meekly. Yeah, fat chance that.

Bells, whistles and alarms started going off in my head. I would face heavy fines if any of our party misbehaved.

Our second encounter with Ranger Peggy began after the boats were packed for our first day on the river. Tom started off with a discussion on river safety. Naturally we were required to wear our PFD’s (Personal Flotation Devices) any time we were on the boat.

Tom, with his interesting hairdo, and Ranger Peggy check their lists to see which of the many rules they have forgotten to inform us about.

What’s the first rule if you fall overboard: Hang onto the boat. What’s the second rule? “Hang onto the boat,” we chanted in unison. And so it went. Tom saw his wife, Beth, go flying by him the year before as he bounced through a rapid. He caught up with her down river.

If the raft flips, what do you do? Hang onto the boat! “Easier said than done,” I think.

“Your head is the best tool you have in an emergency,” Ranger Peggy lectured. Right. When the river grabs you, sucks you under the water, and beats you against a rock— stay cool.

For all of the concern about safety on the river, the Park Service seemed more concerned about our behavior on shore.

Over 20,000 people float down the river annually. And 20,000 people can do a lot of damage to a sensitive desert environment. Campsites are few and far between and the major ones may have to accommodate several thousand people over the year.

Picture this: 20,000 people pooping and peeing in your back yard without bathroom facilities. It isn’t pretty. So we pack out the poop. And we pee in the river…

Packing out poop makes sense. But peeing in the river, no way! I’d led wilderness trips for 36 years and for 36 years I’ve preached a thousand times you never, never pee in the water. Bathroom chores are carried out at least 100 yards away from water and preferably farther.

The first time I lined up with the guys, I could barely dribble out of dismay.

The rules went on and on. Mainly they had to do with leaving a pristine campsite and washing our hands. Normally, I am not a rules type of guy but most of what Ranger Peggy preached made sense. Sixteen people with diarrhea is, um, shitty.

And few things disturb me more than a trashy campsite in the wilderness. The least we could do was to leave our campsites sparkling clean.

Finally, we were ready to launch. Eighteen days and 279 miles of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon stretched out ahead. Ranger Peggy checked our IDs against her list. We were who we claimed to be. The boatmen strapped down the gear. It was time to climb aboard and Tom was anxious to get going.

The same up-canyon winds that whipped dust into our tent were threatening to create a Herculean task of rowing. Headwinds of up to 60 MPH were predicted.

The group, ready to launch. Wife Peggy, as opposed to Ranger Peggy, is holding her and my purple PFDs. I’m second from the left, looking chunky.

 

WEDNESDAY’S POST: It’s back to the Amazon and monkey business. While Peggy gets the ‘good’ monkey, I get the ‘bad’ monkey.

FRIDAY’S POST: I learn a bit about cross cultural relations as a second grader— on a queen sized bed.

MONDAY’S POST: Fighting ferocious headwinds, we begin our journey through the Grand Canyon.

 

 

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The One, the Only, the Interview with Bone….

Bone has been in many tough situations in his life; he can handle tough questions. Here he rests on top of a saguaro cactus in Arizona looking for border patrol agents. His lack of official papers, or even a birth certificate, can cause problems at times. President Trump has yet to tweet about him, however.

 

One of the more recent followers of this post, Gunta, was doing an Internet search on Tom Lovering a week or so ago when she came across this interview that Bone did— and laughed a lot. Again, many of you will have read this interview, but I am reposting it on behalf of the new folks who have joined my blog in the past year.

 

Q: Do you really talk? We’re speaking ethics here, Bone. Blogging is about transparency. That means honesty.

A. Are you crazy? Have you ever heard a bone talk? Of course I don’t talk. I just think out loud.

Q: Curt sometimes refers to you as he. Does this mean you are a male bone?

A. No. He makes assumptions, lot of them. He was showing me to a biologist at a writers’ conference and she suggested I have my DNA tested. “Just cut a small chip off of it,” she said nonchalantly. “You can determine its sex and breed.”

“Just cut a small chip off of it!Outrageous! I am not some it to have chips cut out of. Besides, I lead a rich fantasy life and have no desire to know whether I am male or female. Call me she, he, or Bone, but never it.

Um, I think Bone is definitely a male in this photo. –Curt

Q: You have travelled all over the world and met thousands of people. How do they usually react to you?

A. With befuddlement. You should have seen the look on the face of the customs agent in New Zealand who tried to seize me as ‘animal matter.’ But emotions run the gamut. There was a Japanese man who got off a tour bus at Yellowstone National Park and wanted to hold me for good luck. Soon there were 40 other Japanese handing me around, oohing, and taking photos. I was thrilled. On the opposite side, I know a woman who refuses to touch me, like I have cooties. “I don’t know where Bone has been,” she states primly. Not surprisingly, there is also jealousy. “I want to be you and travel the world,” a good friend in Sacramento told me.

Some people act like I have cooties. This woman almost dropped me and then washed her hands! –Bone

Her daughter, on the other hand, so to speak, understands proper bone etiquette and respect. –Bone

Q:  What is your favorite thing to do?

A. Visit graveyards; there are lots of old bones there. My favorite grave is Smokey Bear’s in Capitan, New Mexico. I once stood on his tombstone for ten minutes trying to communicate but all I could get was something about ‘growling and a prowling and a sniffing the air.’ A close second is the grave of Calamity Jane in Deadwood, South Dakota. What a woman! These are difficult choices, though, when you toss in the likes of Hemingway, Daniel Boone and Billy the Kid. On the light side I once visited Ben and Jerry’s graveyard of discarded ice cream flavors in Vermont. My spookiest experience was a visit to the Capela dos Ossos, the Chapel of Bones, in Evora, Portugal. Those folks definitely have a skeleton in their closet, lots of them.

Bone has a special fondness for unusual graves. Here he hangs out with Billy the Kid in New Mexico. Has he been in a shoot out? Is that blood on his vest?

Q: So, what’s your second most favorite?

A. Too hard; I am a dilettante dabbler, but here are a few.

  • Wandering, of course, anywhere and everywhere and by all modes: bikes, kayaks, rafts, skis, backpacks, sailboats, planes, helicopters, trains, cars, RVs, etc.
  • Visiting wild, remote and beautiful natural areas. I started life wandering the Sierra Nevada Mountains, John Muir’s Range of Light.
  • Seeking out the strange such as ghosts and aliens (I’ve been to Roswell four times).
  • Attending unique events like Burning Man but I also have a fondness for any type of fair.
  • Meeting weird people like Tom.

Bone backpacking on the John Muir Trail.

Tom being eaten by a bony desert monster.

Q: Speaking of Tom, he and Curt ‘discovered’ you in 1977 and you have wandered extensively with both. Which do you like best?

A. Eeyore, the jackass who can’t keep track of his tail. We’re traveling companions and he saved me from being strung up and buried on Boothill in Tombstone, Arizona. I’d robbed a bank, cheated at cards and hung out with women of questionable character. (This is what I mean by having a rich fantasy life. It’s also known as evasion.)

“I was in deep trouble in Tombstone. Wyatt Earp had arrested me for robbing a bank and Doc Holiday was checking me for weapons.”

“My life as Bone was in serious jeopardy.”

“Odds were I was going to end up on Boothill, along with Billy Clanton.”

“But then the ever brave Eeyore came to my rescue! I hopped on his back and we went riding off into the sunset while leaping over large rocks.”

Q: Which of your journeys has been most memorable?

A. I would have to say traveling the length of Africa in the back of a truck from the Sahara Desert in the north to Cape Town in the south. Almost falling off the back of a riverboat into a piranha infested section of the Amazon River would have to be a close second. I was perched on the back railing doing a photo shoot. And then, of course, there was the 10,000-mile bike trip.

“I was much smarter when I rafted down the Colorado. I wore a life jacket!”

“That didn’t protect me from pirates. The dreaded pirate Steve held a knife to my throat and demanded to know where I buried my treasure.”

Q: You are often seen scrambling over rocks in remote sections of the Southwestern United States. What’s that all about?

A. I’ve developed a fondness for Native American Rock art. It resonates with my bone-like nature. It’s also another excuse to go wandering around in the outdoors. Plus, some those places might be haunted and it is a great place to look for UFOs. Some of the petroglyphs look amazingly like aliens. Finally, wandering in the desert is known to be good for the soul. Ask the Prophets of yore.

“How can this guy and his strange dog not be aliens?”

“Here I am making tracks across White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. It’s a great place to watch out for UFOs.”

Q: Ah, being a born-again bone, do you have any insights into the great unknown?

A. Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Q: Finally, and this may be a little sensitive, but do you always run around naked?

A. What kind of a question is that? Do you think I am uncivilized? For shame. I am the epitome of haute couture! A bow and arrow toting, card-carrying NRA member in Montana has designed and made me two leather vests. What’s more, an 80 plus year old woman in Kansas going on 20 with a crush on Johnny Depp and a room devoted to the Egyptian gods has made me a kilt and several other outfits. Then there is the horse woman actress in Ohio whose husband is an ex-secret service agent who has promised me an outfit and the artist head of a PR firm in the Bahamas who has promised me another. Face it; I am hot stuff, clothed or naked. I may take up a modeling career.

Rod Hilton fashions a new leather vest for bone.

“My Bahamian/Canadian friend makes me a new vest in the wilds of Montana.” 

Bone, wearing his newly made kilt, fights off a ferocious sea monster in a scene straight out of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’

MONDAY’S POST: Back to the Grand Canyon.

The History of the Bone… Fifty Years and Still Wandering

Bone has travelled twice to the base of Mt. Everest.

Since Bone played a prominent role in our raft trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, I decided to republish his history and an interview he did. This is mainly for the folks who follow my blog and aren’t familiar with his exploits. Many of you will have read today and tomorrow’s posts.

Sometime in the 1900s Bone started his life as part of a horse wandering through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The horse was allegedly eaten by a bear. Bone ended up in a high mountain meadow practicing Zen and being nibbled on by a miscreant rodent.

1977: He was ‘discovered’ by two lost backpackers (Curt Mekemson and Tom Lovering) on the Tahoe Yosemite Trail above Lake Tahoe and launched his career of wandering the world.

Normally, Bone likes to hang out in our library at home. His favorite section is travel.

He also has a fondness for George, the Bush Devil who is on the cover of my book, “The Bush Devil Ate Sam.” Here, the two of them share a laugh.

1980-81: Bone commenced his first World Tour with Tom.  He visited Asia including Japan, Hong Kong, Bombay, Delhi and Katmandu where he trekked to the base of Mt. Everest. He then wandered on to spend spring and summer in Europe stopping off in Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, England and Ireland. Getting cold, Bone headed south and hitched a ride in back of a truck through Algeria, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zaire, Sudan, Kenya (where he crossed the Equator), Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. He signed on with Tom as crew of a sailboat in Cape Town and headed north to Mallorca, stopping off on the islands of St. Helena, Ascension, Cape Verde and Madeira. Back in Europe he explored his possible Viking roots in Sweden, Norway and Finland.

1983-86: Bone assumed Cheechako status and moved to Alaska with Curt where he was stalked by a grizzly bear on the Kenai Peninsula, explored Prince William Sound by kayak, learned to winter camp in 30 degree below zero weather while listening to wolves howl, backpacked in the Brooks Range north of the Arctic Circle, and discussed the finer points of eating salmon with Great Brown Bears in Katmai National Park. He escaped briefly to the warmer climate of Hawaii and participated in New Orleans Mardi Gras.

One look at this fellow and Bone decided that he wanted to be elsewhere.

Alaska Brown Bear playing with moose bone.

The big guy was playing with a distant cousin of his.

1986: He backpacked the Western US for five months with Curt exploring the Grand Canyon, the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, the Rockies, and the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming before returning to his beloved Sierras.

1989: Bone went on a six month 10,000-mile solo bike tour with Curt around North America visiting 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces. He ended his journey by meeting Peggy.

In the spring of 1989 I left Sacramento on my bike for a 10,000 mile solo trip around North America. Everything I would need to survive for six months on the road was packed on my bike, some 60 pounds of gear. It wasn’t totally solo. Bone was riding in my handle bar bag.

1990: The International Society of the BONE was formed at Senior Frogs in Mazatlan, Mexico, where Bone spent the afternoon being pickled in a pitcher of margaritas and being kissed by lovely senoritas.

1991-97: Various members of International Society accompanied Bone on numerous adventures. Highlights included a White House Press Conference with Bill Clinton, being blessed by the Pope in St. Peter’s Square, visiting with Michelangelo’s David, going deep-sea diving in the South Pacific and Caribbean, doing a Jane Austin tour of England, and exploring the Yucatan Peninsula. A group adopted him as a good luck charm and took him back to visit the base of Mt. Everest one year and to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro another.

Bone loves high places. Here he is on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in East Africa. (He’s with MJ, fourth from right, standing.)

Bone went diving in the Pacific in 1997 with Jose and Barbara Kirchner, visiting a Japanese ship sunk during World War II and receiving his diving certificate.

1998-99: Bone embarked on 40,000-mile journey in the van, Xanadu, through the US, Canada and Mexico with Peggy and Curt, visiting over 30 National Parks, driving the Alaska and Baja Highways, checking out Smokey the Bear’s and Calamity Jane’s graves, kayaking in the Sea of Cortez, leaf peeping in Vermont, jetting to the Bahamas, pursuing flying saucers in Roswell, New Mexico, and completing his visits to all 50 states, etc. etc. etc.

Bone was quite impressed with the size of his ancient relatives. Here he rests on dinosaur toes at the Dinosaur National Monument Visitor Center.

2000-02: Bone journeys up the Amazon, returns to Europe, cruises to Belize, Cancun and the Cayman’s, and goes to New Zealand where a misguided customs agent tries to arrest and jail him as animal matter.

Peggy and I found this mudstone concretion in New Zealand on a South Island beach. Bone, who likes strange things, insisted on having his photo taken with it.

2003: Bone undertakes a 360-mile backpack trip in celebration of his discovery and Curt’s 60th birthday. They begin at Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe and end by climbing Mt. Whitney. Various friends join them along the way.

Bone got a little high when he helped me celebrate my 60th birthday,  which isn’t surprising considering  he is a California bone.

2004: Bone visits Hemingway’s grave in Idaho, goes horseback riding with Australians and Bahamians in Montana, and makes his first pilgrimage to Burning Man in Nevada, a very Bone like type of place. He also jets off to Costa Rica.

Bone has a love for anything ancient. Here, he perches on a Mayan sculpture in Costa Rica.

2005-2007: Bone returns to Burning Man twice and revisits Europe twice including special stopovers in Portugal, France, Holland, Germany, and Belgium. He also revisits Mexico.

2008 – 2011: Bone commences another exploration of North America. This time he travels in the van, Quivera, along with Curt, Peggy, and Eeyore the Jackass. His journey takes him over 75,000 miles of American Roads. In May of 2010 he helps Curt initiate his blog, and rafts 280 miles down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

2012-2018: Bone goes into semi-retirement in Southern Oregon. Please note the semi, however. He continues the exploration of the West Coast ranging from Big Sur to Vancouver Island, where he kayaks for a week in search of Killer Whales. He wanders through England and Scotland helping Curt find his roots and spends a week traveling by Canal Boat. Later, he returns to Europe again, traveling through the Mediterranean visiting Turkey, Santorini and other Greek Islands, Dubrovnik, Venice, Rome, Pompeii, Florence, and Barcelona. He returns to Burning Man several times.  On one trip, he is married to the lovely Bonetta, who he met while exploring a swamp in Florida. Rumor has it that it was a shotgun wedding. This past year he traveled with Peggy and me on our 10,000 mile trip around North America retracing my bike route and with fellow blogger Crystal Truelove to visit with Native Americans of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.

Burning Man is one of Bone’s all-time favorite activities.

Bone and Big Nose Bonetta are married at Burning Man 2013. Bone’s kilt was made for him by an 80-plus year old woman from Kansas. Bonetta is wearing a designer wedding dress with very expensive plastic jewelry to match.

Bone got a wee bit jealous when I snuggled up to this mammoth of a bone when Peggy and I were re-visiting by van my 1999 10,000-mile bike trip last year.

TOMORROW’S POST: You won’t want to miss the interview with Bone!

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WARNING: Reading Can Lead You into a Life of MisAdventures…

Cover to Edison Marshall's book, Caravan to Xanadu

My mother’s uncle wrote swashbuckling historical fiction that took his heroes all over the world. My early reading of his books gave me a desire for travel that has never left me.

 

In last Friday’s subchapter from MisAdventures, I moved from being the world’s most average student under the stern glare of Mrs. Young in the first grade to being a ‘teacher’s pet’ under Miss Jone’s more supportive environment in the second grade. 

 

While I wouldn’t describe Ruth Jones-Hall as being lax, she taught me that education could be fun and, more importantly, got me excited about reading. Reading became my opportunity to shine. I must have been a pain in the ass to the other little kids: waving my hands with an urgent “me, me,” reading in a loud voice, pronouncing the tough words and tearing through the dictionary to find definitions before anyone else could. My greatest triumph came in the third grade when Miss Jones had laryngitis and asked me to take over reading the noontime story. I still remember the book, Laura Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. Unfortunately, another classmate was given equal billing and I had to share the glory. (Sharing was another one of those areas Mrs. Young had marked ‘needs massive improvement.’)

Reading was much more than an ego-booster; it unlocked a treasure chest of new worlds that expanded my universe far beyond the outskirts of Diamond Springs. I started out swinging through the trees of Africa with Tarzan of the Apes and kept going. Robin Hood took me to Sherwood Forest where I joined the fight against the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. Robinson Crusoe introduced me to sailing on the seven seas and surviving on exotic islands. I discovered dog books and horse books and cowboy books and read them all. There was no such thing as having too many books or not enough time to read.

I read so much that finding books became a challenge. At first, a combination of parents, school and friends filled the need. Friends were good for comic books. Parents provided more serious materials such as Five Little Firemen, and the school offered the usual Dick and Jane fare. As I grew older, Christmas and birthdays brought treasures like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But these were special events and far too infrequent to fill my voracious reading appetite. Summer created the greatest problem. When I wasn’t out wandering with the dogs, I could be found out in the back yard with my feet propped up and mind lost in the book of the day.

Fortunately, right about the time I exhausted all of my normal sources, I discovered the county library. It was located in an old house in Placerville at the bottom of the steep hill where Highway 49 deposited people from Diamond Springs and other points south. Few things excited me more than my weekly pilgrimage to its book crammed rooms. I developed a Pavlovian response to the smell of books that exists to this day.  I could have spent hours lost among the shelves and would have except for an impatient mother. My time was limited to how long it took her to consume two beers at the Round Tent Bar on Main Street. On occasion, however, when she exceeded her two-beer limit and got lost in the alcohol, I had to go fetch her from the bar when the library closed.

By the time I was 12, I had solved the problem of summer reading material by hitch-hiking the three miles to Placerville and spending as much time in the library as I wanted. My only frustration was that the three books the librarian limited me to taking out the door were not nearly enough to occupy me for a week’s worth of reading.

Growing older also gave me access to the almost nonexistent family library. Pop didn’t read much and preferred his books technical or Holy. He read like he talked, slowly with his lips moving as he pondered each word. Mother’s reading skills were greyhound fast in comparison and her tastes were more eclectic. But she liked her books short, as in Reader’s Digest Condensed Books short. We had quite a collection. The total library was housed in a small bookcase possibly two feet wide and five feet tall located in the ‘office.’

What intrigued me most was that it contained a number of autographed books written by my Grandfather’s brother, Edison Marshall, who wrote exotic historical fiction that focused on wanderers like Marco Polo. Uncle Eddie, as my mother called him, had a long history of writing that dated from the 20s up through the 50s. Nine of his books were turned into movies. The last one, The Viking, came out in 1958 and starred Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine, and Janet Leigh. Orson Wells was the narrator.

Books by Edison Marshall

While I never met Edison, who lived in far off Georgia, his books served as a mentor to me.

Back cover to Edison Marshall's Caravan to Xanadu

The back cover to “Caravan to Xanadu.” How could a young boy not be fascinated by such exotic fare?

Map from Edison Marshall's book Caravan to Exanadu

Even more than the cover, I was pulled into the book by the map of Marco Polo’s journey. We had a set of encyclopedias that Edison had owned in the 1920s where he had mapped out his big game hunting trips all over the world. I would sit for hours following the routes he had inked out, including into the heart of a still unknown Africa.

Edison’s depiction of historical figures gave me a fascination for both history and travel that would never leave me. A bit of sex in his books also caught my attention. It would earn a PG 13 rating in today’s world but was considered racy at the time. Check out the woman on the cover of Caravan to Xanadu. I’m surprised he got away with exposing a breast in the 1940s. I’d fly through the pages, and then slow down, way down. His accounts were infinitely more entertaining than anything included in my elementary, high school or even college history books. It’s too bad the creators of history textbooks have to make the subject so dull. Including a bit of intrigue, adventure, humor, tragedy and sex (i.e. real life), might lead to a more educated society. Old Ben Franklin didn’t just represent the US in France during the Revolutionary War. He spent a lot of time chasing French women. Early to bed, early to rise, indeed!

Edison Marshall and his home in Augusta, Georgia

Edison grew up in the town of Medford, Oregon, living for a while with his extended family that included my mother as a child. His writing brought him fame and fortune, including this mansion near Augusta, Georgia. It was a long ways from Diamond Springs.

Edison Marshall and his Agent Paul Reynolds

He sent us this photo of a meeting with his agent, Paul Reynolds. Reynolds also represented authors like Alex Hailey, Irving Wallace, Howard Fast, and, surprising to me, Malcolm X.

 

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY’S POSTS: I’ll provide some background information on the World Traveler, Bone, since he, or possibly she, is going on the Grand Canyon trip. This includes an actual interview with the wily character.

Bone celebrates having received official Coast Guard approval on Kodiak Island, Alaska for his PFD (personal flotation device).

 

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Up Close and Personal with Piranhas on the Amazon River… The Wednesday Photo Essay

Fishing for piranhas

How do you take the hook out of a piranha’s mouth. Carefully! When one fell off the hook into the bottom of our boat and started flopping around and snapping its teeth, all feet immediately went up into the air.

 

It’s photo Wednesday and today I will be featuring a trip that Peggy and I took up the Amazon. It was the pre-digital age and the photos produced by our camera weren’t quite as clear as we produce now, but I felt we did a fair job of capturing our experience. Enjoy.

Whenever I think of the world’s great rivers, associations pop into my mind. The Mississippi immediately throws me back into early American history with Mark Twain and riverboats. The Nile takes me even further back in time to Ancient Egypt and pyramids. I think of Hindus plunging into frigid waters when I picture the Ganges. The Yangtze or Cháng Jiāng carries me off to the heart of China and the ‘mysterious East.’ The Danube makes me want to get up and slow-dance— thank you Strauss. And, I imagine exotic adventures when I think of the Congo or Niger. All of this relates to the fact that I am an incurable romantic fascinated with both history and adventure.

But nothing spells exotic for me like the Amazon. The river with its 1,100 tributaries provides a seemingly infinite number of opportunities to get lost. One could easily spend a lifetime exploring the river and unlocking the secrets of the massive rainforest the river and tropical rains supports. More than 20% of the world’s oxygen and fresh water comes from the region. And it is one of the world’s richest centers of biodiversity.

Amazon parrot

One third of the world’s birds, some 1500 species, can be found in the Amazon. This parrot stopped by for a visit. Every evening large numbers would fly between the trees in the forest canopy.

Curt Mekemson searching for wildlife on Amazon River

I spent a lot of time checking out the shores and canopy for birds and wildlife.

Catpillars on tree in Amazon Rainforest

Our trips ashore introduced us to some of the more exotic insect life such as this parade of caterpillars that somehow reminded me of a dancing Kokopelli from Native American mythology. All that was lacking was his flute.

Kokopelli

Kokopelli playing his flute as he appears on a drink coaster of ours. The girls were said to go crazy over him.

Peggy and my journey into the Amazon was tame as such adventures go. Still, we managed to work in a five-day river boat trip out of Manaus and a stay at a tree house lodge up in the rainforest canopy where we hung out with monkeys and slept in a bed that Jimmy Carter had once occupied. Our riverboat trip introduced us to the rainforest plus gave us a slight flavor of life on the river— including fishing for and eating piranhas. It was the law of the jungle: Eat or be eaten. (Grin)

On today’s photo essay, I will feature our river boat trip. Next week, we will hang out with the monkeys.

Amazon Clipper on tributary of Amazon River

Our boat, the Amazon Clipper, settled in for the night on the Rio Negro. Our crew would tie it off to trees in the rainforest.

View out window of river boat on the Amazon

The view out our port-side window.

The Amazon Clipper river boat

A closer view of the boat. Six cabins provided space for passengers. The top deck served as an excellent viewing platform.

Peggy Mekemson assuming a Titanic pose on an Amazon riverboat

Peggy also used it for a Titanic-type pose. I would add that the deck made an excellent location for evening cocktails.

Map of South America

Our journey into the rainforest took us to the city of Manaus which is located at the confluence of the Amazon River and its tributary, the Rio Negro some 1000 miles above where the Amazon runs into the Atlantic Ocean.

Manaus and Rio Negro River

Our riverboat journey would take us out of Manaus, up the Rio Negro River, through the numerous channels of the the Anavihanas, and to the community of Novo Airao. First, however, we boated down to the confluence of the Rio Negro and the Amazon near the # 319 marker where the dark waters of the Rio Negro meet the lighter waters of the Amazon. (Photo from Google Maps.)

Meeting of Amazon and Rio Negro

They call it the ‘mixing of the water’ where the Rio Negro meets the Amazon.

Tributary to Rio Negro

The braided channels of the Anavihanas brought the rainforest in close to the boat.

Amazon Rainforest

Evening in the Anavihanas on the Rio Negro River

An evening view.

Bone with river boat pilot on Amazon River

Bone took his trick at the helm.

Bone on tributary to Amazon River

And then posed for a photo-op on the rear railing. It almost turned into a disaster as the boat sped up. I leapt up and just caught Bone as he started to fall into the piranha infested waters! I guess if you have to go…

Piranha dinner

Later, as I noted above, we took the boat’s skiff and went fishing for piranhas. These fellows made a tasty treat.

Peggy swimming in Amazon

Peggy gave the piranhas their chance for revenge but no one bit. (The crew assured us that this section of the river was piranha free.)

Covered boat on Rio Negro River in Amazon Rainforest

We saw a number of small boats along the river…

Small boat on Rio Negro River in Brazil

House boat on Amazon

Home along Rio Negro in Bazil

And houses.

Homes along Amazon

We stopped here and went for a walk in the forest.

Brazilian with machete

This fellow split open a Brazil nut with his machete and gave us all a taste.

Tree platform for hunting in the Amazon Rainforest

While another machete wielding man showed off a hunter’s platform.

Rubber tree in Brazil

Rubber trees provided the wealth that drove the development of Manaus in the 1800s. Rubber is made from the sap that comes from the cuts in the tree.

Igreja Santo Angelo - Novo Airao, Amazonas Brazil

The town of Novo Airao gave us a feel for how people lived in Brazil’s rainforest communities. This is the church of Igreja Santo Angelo.

Cartoon building in Novo Airao, Brazil

We were amused by the cartoon characters that decorated what was probably a school.

Open market in Nova, Airao, Brazil

This open market reminded me of the shops in Gbarnga, Liberia where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Dog in Nova Airao, Brazil

And this handsome dog reminded me of Do-Your-Part, the basenji that adopted me in Liberia.

Business in Nova Airao, Brazil

Another typical town building.

Flower in Novo Airao Brazil

We found this flower on a walk through the town…

Breadfruit in Amazon

And what I assumed was breadfruit.

Boats at Nova Airao, Brazil

The boats were on the waterfront of Nova Airao.

Peggy Mekemson sleeping on Amazon River boat.

While I could never break myself away from watching for birds, snakes and wildlife, Peggy found a comfortable place to snooze on our way back to Manaus.

Apartment complex Manaus, Brazil

Manaus is a bustling city. I liked the unique apartment house on the left, boxes stacked on top of each other and leaning slightly to the right.

Amazon boats in Manaus Brazil

Passenger boats are lined up along the waterfront to begin the thousand mile journey down to the ocean and points in between. Their schedule is that they leave when they are full!

Sunset on the Amazon River

I’ll close today’s post with a couple of photos of the sun setting on the Amazon.

Sunset on the Amazon

FRIDAY’S POST: Reading guarantees that I become a wanderer.

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY: Since Bone is traveling with us on our trip through the Grand Canyon, I introduce him/her to those of you who don’t know the small fellow with a huge personality and ego to match. Sunday’s post includes an interview.

MONDAY’S POST: I kick off our raft trip through the Grand Canyon with a fervent wish that I had spent more time getting in shape!

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Peggy and I continue our Amazon adventure with me ending up with a monkey on my head and Peggy with one in her lap.

 

 

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Homeland Security Goes Searching for a Bomb… Rafting through the Grand Canyon: Part 3

Essential Grand Canyon supplies DG

All of my wilderness experiences have been motivated by a go-light philosophy when it comes to food, which makes sense if you carry it on your backs. River runners, on the other hand, have rafts to carry everything. Other rules apply. Extra pounds don’t matter. And if you are going to carry all of these oranges, you might as well carry some alcohol to mix with your orange juice. (Photo by Don Green.)

 

The fact that we were full-time travelers made our Grand Canyon trip easier. There was no house, mail, job, pet or the other factors of normal life to worry about. We just pointed our van toward Flagstaff and drove, stopping along the way at places like Arches and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Bryce Canyon

While our fellow rafters were scurrying to wrap up business to prepare for our 18-day raft trip though the Grand Canyon, Peggy and I were visiting Nationals Parks in Utah. This is Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon 1

Another view of Bryce.

Great adventures usually start with mundane tasks, as most of you know. For example, did you cancel the paper? Common sense, travel pundits, (and probably your mother) admonish you that devious burglars have nothing better to do than to cruise the streets looking for rolled newspapers in front of your home.

More importantly, what about the cat?

Once upon a time Peggy and I had a cat named FE. Vacations meant I would carefully measure out twice as much food and water as she could possibly eat or drink and four times the kitty litter she might use. The likelihood of her using our house as a litter box was much greater that the likelihood of her starving. As a reward for my thoughtfulness, she would shed enough fur in our absence to fill a dump truck. For weeks after we arrived home, she would also pad into our bedroom in the wee hours each night and meow loudly to make sure we hadn’t abandoned her again. Or possibly it was punishment…

FE and Sylvester dressed for Christmas

FE and her buddy, Sylvester, dressed for Christmas. Note FE’s Rudolph-red nose. I recall that a bit of photoshopping was required to get her ready for the Christmas letter.

We weren’t getting off scot-free on preparation for the river trip, however. In Flagstaff, we had food to worry about. Lots of it. Tom Lovering, his wife Beth and their friend Jamie Wilson arrived in Flagstaff three days in advance of our Colorado River trip. Their car was packed to the brim with empty ammo cans for things like cameras and huge ice chests for food. They were late.

The Department of Homeland Security had delayed their journey at Hoover Dam. The Agency is paranoid about mad bombers, rightfully so. And this was before the new bridge across the river had been completed; people still had to drive across the dam. A vehicle packed with C-4 could conceivably blow a big hole. Stern faced agents carrying guns were posted at each entrance. No smiling was allowed. Homeland Security’s normally low sense of humor (have you ever joked about a bomb during a security check at an airport) dropped to zero when the agents saw all the ammo cans Tom had packed in his vehicle. Rafters love these containers because they are waterproof and easily obtainable at Army Surplus stores. You can imagine what went through the minds of the agents. The whole car had to be unpacked and each ammo can carefully checked out.

Tom Lovering

This was the face that Tom greeted the Homeland Security agents with— furry but friendly. His looks were about to change…

Tom getting a do

Tom getting a ‘do’ in Flagstaff…

Tom Lovering with horns

What if Tom would have met the agents looking like this with green horns? We still might be waiting for him in Flagstaff.

Tom is even more paranoid about food than DHS is about terrorists. In addition to being a highly experienced rafter and trip leader, he’s an old restaurateur who had spent months planning the menu.  Each dish had been tested several times and quantities had been measured down to the teaspoon. Recipes were spelled out in minute detail. We would eat gourmet on the trip and cook it Tom’s way— or die. The options were clear.

Beth, Peggy and I were dispatched to Sam’s Club with marching orders. We filled seven large shopping carts with food. Think of it this way. There were 16 people going on an 18-day trip and eating three meals a day. This equaled 864 individual meals.

When we arrived back at the motel, Tom and Jamie had set up a staging area. Food needed to be organized by meal and day and then stuffed in the appropriate containers. The containers would then be assigned to rafts. It was important that we knew where to find the beer.

Large food containers for Grand Canyon trip

Large food chests waited for us when we got back to our motel. Each would be filled with food. Dry ice would be added to keep our food fresh for 18-days.

We still had to shop for perishables and more food was also coming from Sacramento. Our room, we discovered, was to be the recipient of most of the food. Apparently, it was written into the fine print of being ‘permit holder.’ There was barely space to sleep. Not that we slept much. Soon, we would be on the river! But first, Bone had to be appropriately dressed for his trip.

Supplies for Grand Canyon trip

We went to Safeway to purchase our perishable goods, and once more our small RV was filled to the brim.

Gear and food Grand Canyon trip

We discovered that the majority of the large food containers would be stowed in our room. With our own gear spread out on the bed, it was questionable if we would have room to sleep! Tom provides a perspective on the size of the ice chests. The yellow container is an ammunition can.

Bone in life vest

One of our final responsibilities was to make sure that Bone was adequately dressed for the trip in his PFD. Once, he almost fell off a boat in the piranha infested water of the Amazon. It would not do to lose him in the roaring rapids of the Colorado. Next Saturday and Sunday, I will provide background on Bone since he was an active participant on the river trip.

Loading truck for Grand Canyon trip DG

Finally, it was time to load our food and gear on this truck for transport down to Lee’s Ferry and the beginning of the trip. The truck was completely stuffed by the time we were finished. We were finally on our way! (Photo by Don Green.)

 

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: A river boat trip on the Amazon River. The piranhas are biting and we bite back.

FRIDAY’S MisAdventure’s POST: There is nothing like reading to seduce you into becoming a wanderer.

MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: We start our raft journey through the Grand Canyon with 30 MPH headwinds. So much for a peaceful (between rapids) float down the Colorado!

 

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I Become Ruler of the First Grade. Not… MisAdventures: The Book

By the time I made it into the first grade, I could actually draw a stick horse that didn’t look like a kinky snake. It was finger painting that I excelled at, however. You just smear paint on paper. I circled this rare work of art so my parents wouldn’t forget which one was mine.

 

In retrospect, getting booted out of the first grade was one of the best things that ever happened to me. When I returned a year later, I was older than my fellow students, bigger than many, and at least as coordinated. More importantly, my brain had advanced to the point where it didn’t embarrass me.

I even made the decision in the rough and tumble world of first grade politics that it was my job to rule. No one agreed of course; why should they? But I wasn’t alone in such delusions. My major competition was another first grader named Joe. He was even less civilized than I, if that’s possible, a true barbarian. He rightfully recognized there could be only one leader of the pack but mistakenly thought it should be him. Obviously, we had to fight.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Young didn’t understand the necessity of our action, even though I explained it to her. It only confirmed her already low opinion of me. I received my first and only school spanking as a reward.

While I was learning the subtleties of power politics, my academic life was suffering; either that or Mrs. Young had decided there wasn’t much hope for Marge Mekemson’s kid. My report cards read C right across the line except where it recorded behavior. All of those categories were marked ‘needs improvement.’ Talks in class, needs improvement; is courteous at all times; needs more improvement. You get the idea. I couldn’t even dress right. I wonder if Mrs. Young knew my attire didn’t include underwear. I thought it was a sissy thing to do until I caught a rather sensitive part of my anatomy in the zipper. That was educational. I learned more about clothing in one second than I did in a whole year of Mrs. Young’s harping.

Eventually, after two years of trying, I made it out of the first grade and began to enjoy school. It turned out that my second and third grade teacher, Miss Jones, was also my Godmother. She had to like me. All sorts of Biblical rules apply. Thus it was that a dash of Holy Water changed my whole perspective on education. I actually wanted to please the teacher. I went from class rebel to teacher’s pet.

“Can I clean the black boards, Miss Jones? Can I empty the trash? Can I, can I, can I?” No chore was too menial. Had my fellow second graders known the word they would have called me a sycophant instead of a kiss-up, or worse.

So, what changed? Mrs. Young was a good teacher as I am sure several generations of graduates from Diamond Elementary would attest. But she was ‘old school’ and her world was one of rules and corporal punishment. Each year she was faced with the daunting task of taming a new group of wild beasts and this required discipline. It was not my ideal environment. I’ve never done particularly well at rules.

MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: Homeland Security goes looking for a bomb in our food containers for our Grand Canyon raft trip. Doesn’t everyone carry a dozen or so ammo cans when they travel?

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Blog POST: A trip up the Amazon River with Piranhas for dinner. It’s better to eat than be eaten.

FRIDAY’S Blog a Book POST: The magic of reading.

 

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